TBT: The Graduate (1967)

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For the second pick of November ’15 we’re going back to what has been referred to me time and again as a classic. A coming-of-ager to end all coming-of-age films. It’s Dustin Hoffman’s second big screen appearance, one that officially opened up the doors to a promising and diverse career, one that I am ashamed to admit I have experienced precious little of. My world has been rocked today as I have learned that 1) Dustin Hoffman, and I mean this in the most complimentary of ways, has been around much longer than I had thought he had been; and 2) I hadn’t planned this at all, but this TBT is in a way commemorative. Today marks one year since the sudden and tragic passing of the much-acclaimed director of 

Today’s food for thought: The Graduate.

'The Graduate' movie poster

Worrying about the future since: December 22, 1967

[Netflix]

An idle mind is the devil’s playground, some Philippians once decreed. Given that, I had an entire sandbox and an assortment of twisty slides to go down thinking about all of the dirty things I could be doing instead of watching this incredibly annoying movie. This character (yes, that’s right, the graduate) doesn’t do anything the entire movie but complain about upper middle-class white male privilege. “Oh no, my life is going in no direction in particular. Guess I’ll go float on a raft in the middle of my pool for the rest of the summer.”

A solid basis for a Kevin Smith movie. Let’s just watch Dustin Hoffman look really good for an hour and 40 minutes in a sun-tinged pool in some swanky house in Burbank. Or wherever the location was. I do find it kind of ironic: I have drifted for much of my post-collegiate life (because I’m no good at making actual, important decisions). I’m middle-class . . . maybe not upper-middle-class but I’ve been fortunate. Where are the cameras? Oh yeah, that’s right, I think out loud, snapping back to reality.

Two things, one probably more important than the other: 1) I’m not an attractive, young movie star and 2) I’m not an attractive, young movie star who gets his bones jumped by Anne Bancroft. See? I’m telling you, this is a movie about privilege.

The Graduate is supposed to be this whole quirky, kinky romantic thing involving Hoffman’s Ben Braddock and a family friend, the lovely but pathetically insecure Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft). The film is hardly romantic and it certainly isn’t charming. Although it does tick the quirky and kinky boxes. It all starts when she asks Ben to drive her home after a welcome home party in Ben’s honor.

Things get a bit awkward as Ben suddenly finds himself alone with her in her room as she undresses. But they won’t do the dirty here — no, they end up getting a room in a hotel where apparently all manners of trysts and assignations occur. This is where we get that iconic shot of Bancroft’s crossed legs in the foreground, with a smitten Ben Braddock lingering in the background, hands in his pockets. Perhaps if Ben weren’t such an incorrigible stiff — I mean that in the least sexual way possible — this movie would be over a heck of a lot sooner, saving me and anyone else who can’t buy into whatever charm Hoffman’s supposedly laying on in his second big screen performance from another 80-some-odd minutes of flaccid comedy.

Complications arise when Ben’s parents set him up on a date with the Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), much to Mrs. Robinson’s disapproval. She hates the thought of Ben going for someone his own age. (Yeah, what a pervert.) When Ben eventually falls in love with Elaine, following a rough first date during which he attempts to distance himself from her at the behest of her mother, all bets are off that Ben’s once quiet life will continue as normal.

Early in the film a family friend encourages the young man to live a little, to enjoy himself just for awhile before he settles down. That was actually Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton) who gave him that advice. Ergo, anything comical about The Graduate stems less from performances and situation as it does from our omniscient vantage point. We know everything and the poor husband knows nothing. I saw more disdain for living than pleasure in embracing life’s unpredictability. Less comedy and more pent-up sexual frustration. The Graduate is all about the latter; I’m not so sure about the former. I suppose one thing that was pretty amusing was how adamant Ben was in ensuring Mrs. Robinson he isn’t a virgin.

More mysterious than how this film has garnered such popularity is Hoffman’s awkward, wooden performance. The goal is to exude that post-graduation malaise but his delivery doesn’t seem very assured. Not to mention, being a womanizer first and a stalker second doesn’t really speak to my experience. And I doubt I’m alone. I’m also not a saint, but if The Graduate is supposed to be a commentary on that awkward ‘next step’ after college — his insufferable parents would like it very much if he attended graduate school; after all, what were those four years of undergrad for anyway? — it’s painting anyone who hasn’t had a life plan in broad strokes and in a pretty ugly color.

Setting aside thematic content, The Graduate just isn’t that creative. It assesses the budding relationship between Ben and Elaine as they continue finding common ground, while an ever envious Mrs. Robinson goes out of her way to make life exceedingly difficult for Ben. It’s another tale of home-wrecking and heartbreaking. The malleability of a young man’s happiness: if he can’t get this, then he’ll settle for that. If not that, then something else. Ben, in the latter half of the film, goes into full-on creeper mode, seeking out Elaine after a major reveal causes her to move out of her parents’ house and back to college, where she apparently is now with some other guy. And while the conclusion ends on a curiously ambiguous note, it’s not wholly unpredictable. The whole damn thing has been about indecision.

All of this ho-ing and hum-ing is set to the tune of a fairly inspired Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, which is one of a few things I’ll take from this movie and cherish. The film is brilliantly scored. So here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. Seems other people will love you more than you will know. Just . . . not . . . me.

Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in 'The Graduate'

Recommendation: If you like your movies testing your every last nerve, you might try out The Graduate. Yeah, it’s an early Dustin Hoffman performance but I didn’t find it a great one. A coming of age movie with almost no wisdom to impart, I have to say I am massively underwhelmed by this thing. 

Rated: PG 

Running Time: 106 mins.

TBTrivia: In Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft’s first encounter in the hotel room, Bancroft did not know that Hoffman was going to grab her breast. Hoffman decided offscreen to do it, because it reminded him of schoolboys trying to nonchalantly grab girls’ breasts in the hall by pretending to put their jackets on. When Hoffman did it onscreen, director Mike Nichols began laughing loudly offscreen. Hoffman began to laugh as well, so rather than stop the scene, he turned away from the camera and walked to the wall. Hoffman banged his head on the wall, trying to stop laughing, and Nichols thought it was so funny, he left it in.

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Enough Said

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Release: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 (limited) 

[Theater]

I miss big Jim. While I wasn’t the most dedicated viewer of The Sopranos (I have yet to see a single episode), it just seemed appropriate that I go catch his last big-screen performance in Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said, which pairs him with Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a romantic comedy that is both timely and by the same token, almost unbearably bittersweet.

That Gandolfini’s last role would be a tender one like this only makes his departure feel all the more surreal. He plays quite the lovable slob in this down-to-earth, feel-goodsomething comedy; an outing that’s written as if real life were unfolding on screen — much credit needs to be awarded Holofcener in that regard. She’s a dual threat as she penned this poignant and deeply personal screenplay, as well as direct it; both appear to be capacities in which she finds great comfort and confidence.

At the heart of Enough Said is a relationship that develops in quite an unusual way. Imagine if by some random chance you were able to get some perspective on a person you’re currently dating, from an ex of theirs. This isn’t the usual gossipy kind of get-to-know-you kind of methods of socializing we’re dealing with, either. Your trump card is that this person you’re talking to on the side has no idea you’re currently their ex’s new flame. Your identity will remain this way unless you accidentally are outed (spoiler alert) or say something to reveal you know too much. What would you do? If you had the chance to find out directly from a second source that your special someone likes to pick their nose and eat it when you’re not around, would you really want to know? Or would you rather wait and find these kinds of things out as you continue to invest more time in this person?

Indeed, this is the conundrum Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds herself in while getting to know the sweet, kind but ultimately unmotivated Albert.

Working as a masseuse, Eva gets a new client after meeting them at a party one night. She and a poet named Marianne (Catherine Keener) become close, and when the conversations turn to relationships and so forth, the film becomes delightfully complex. Eva learns she’s divorced and that her ex is a slob, a person she could not be intimate with, and whose habits drove her crazy. The things she’s learning seem familiar to Eva but she can’t place a finger on it. One day, as Eva drops by to provide another massage she catches Marianne on the phone with someone, a man named Albert. . . her ex-husband. The same man Eva’s been seeing for a few weeks.

Enough Said is brilliantly crafted, and perspective is everything. It probably will be argued what the MOST critical moment is in this film — is it the one in which Eva learns about the true identity of one her clients, or is it when everything becomes revealed to everyone involved? Is Elaine. . . I mean, Eva,  damnable for her actions? What will come of her decision to keep both relationships a secret? Simply put, there’s enough moral ambiguity in her plight for me to write a book bigger than any of the Lord of The Rings entries, specifically dedicated to all the ways in which her character is inconsiderate and weird, and just generally socially awkward. In fact, I’m nearly convinced if [it] weren’t anchored by an equally towering performance from the late Gandolfini, this movie might’ve been terrible. However, his Albert counterbalances perfectly. The couple have a lovely on-screen relationship that makes the movie far more watchable than it might otherwise have been.

Enough Said

4-0Recommendation: Enough Said serves as a heartwarming romantic comedy, but not in the most traditional sense. As strong as the material is here, though, it’s difficult not to go into this movie with far more invested in seeing James Gandolfini on a large screen for a final time. He’s both a great actor in this film and the source of many a tear forming in my eyes. He may be gone, but at least his essence is permanently captured in celluloid-form.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “It’s gonna sound corny, but. . .you broke my heart. And I’m too old for that shit.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com